Since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, the human labor force has been replaced by mechanized jobs and, as a result, it has migrated to other sectors. In nineteenth-century England, for instance, steam-powered tractors began to be used for plowing, which caused many agricultural workers to migrate from the countryside towards other expanding industries that lacked human labour.
Nowadays, however, this “change of profession” – motivated by the substitution of man by machine – becomes much more complex. During the nineteenth century, what was ultimately being replaced was the muscular energy of the peasants, who could easily be employed in other tasks in the industries. Currently, though, advances in Artificial Intelligence threaten cognitive activities that require specialization and preparation of people, which raises the question: what will the impact of Artificial Intelligence (AI) be on the labour market?
An inevitable, modern-day reality
When thinking of autonomous means of transportation, robots that apply anesthesia, cryptocurrency and financial analysis software, it becomes clear how the impacts of AI are a very real (and growing) part of our lives. These technologies already in place today foreshadow intense and imminent transformations on the labor market and will decree, to some extent, the end of many traditional careers and professions.
Hence, occupations we take for granted today may very well vanish in a few decades, after all, demand only grows and artificial intelligence surpasses human effectiveness in many tasks. Since automation is already underway, replacing humans with software should be a rather quick process especially in more developed countries such as Japan, the United Kingdom, Germany, and the United States. Some predictions estimate that the consequence of this fast-paced transformation would be a new class of people by 2050. Besides not having a job, those who were “substituted” by machines would be less likely to fight competition and find one as the labor market will treat these people as unnecessary.
Thus, the idea of losing jobs to machines – whether computers or robots on assembly lines – is a reality that compels a lot of people to reflect on their professional decisions. In this context, the difficult thing is not to predict if some profession will cease to exist, but to predict which ones will stay.
Who will be affected
If digging deeper into research, we find that robotic work has the potential to go far beyond simple repetitive tasks, since nowadays – with neural networks and developments in artificial intelligence – even knowledge and decision-making abilities can be incorporated by a machine. Because of that, the threat of AI per se extends to professions that are based on repetition and require little-to-none human interaction, to those careers that require extreme specific knowledge – after all, a machine can learn.
Needless to say, the number of affected posts will vary according to the industry: health, government and education sectors may have an increasing demand for jobs, while manufacturing and other manual labour occupations will suffer the biggest losses. However, it is important to notice that the introduction of AI functions in the work environment can ultimately create new jobs and that these new transformations can have a bright side – especially if comparing their impact to that of other technological advances of the past.
In any case, it seems that the major challenge for our professional world will be to create jobs that humans can perform better than algorithms.